illustrated portrait of African American first lady Michelle Obama


by Michelle Obama

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Student Question

What sub-topics from the preface of Becoming could support the thesis "never let obstacles stand in the way of your happiness"?

Expert Answers

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With the thesis statement “no matter how tough life gets, never let obstacles stand in the way of your happiness,” there are three components to focus on in making your argument. These include tough life, obstacles, and happiness. In order to make a strong argument, you’ll need to define each of these within the terms of your assignment.

For instance, there are aspects of Michelle Obama’s life that you will want to identify as being “tough,” and those are terms by which you’ll mean that life can be tough within the scope of your essay. These don’t have to be universal claims, but simply evidence taken from the text that supports your claim that Michelle faced tough aspects of life. These could include details such as her childhood in a working-class family, living in a “cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago,” or the brutal criticism she faced as the First Lady. These instances will clarify to your reader how Michelle faced difficulty in life, and they will set you up to complete your argument in the rest of the essay.

Structurally, it would be helpful to dedicate a section of your essay to establish this first claim as well as your follow-up claims exemplifying how Michelle Obama overcame obstacles and how she ultimately found happiness in spite of them. As with the phrase “tough life,” evidence from the text will help you define what “obstacles” can look like, and what “happiness” can be. For example, an obstacle could be the fact that Michelle is both African American and a woman, two identifiers that could (and did) work against her at times due to the patriarchal and racist structures of US culture and law. An example of what happiness looks like to her could be taken from the beginning of the preface, when she discusses the simple things she imagined as a child that would mean her adult self was living a happy life. Another example is referenced at the end of the text, when she thinks of “opening a window so [she] could feel the spring air—how glorious that would be.”

There are themes that run through all of these that you could use as subtopics or common threads as well: her experiences as an African American, her experiences as a woman, or the contrast between happiness in simple lives and luxurious lives. There is plenty of evidence in the text you can pull from to create a strong argument that explores the ideas you introduce in your thesis.

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